How to Choose a Snowboard - All-Mountain Advice

The Explorer  joining us on our next adventure.
Article By:
Chris Edmands
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Wednesday
February 8, 2017
The task of purchasing a new snowboard can be daunting. Throughout the 30-plus years this tester has been riding, there's been countless brands, styles, and marketing gimmicks that have come and gone. Board companies will never cease pushing the limits in R&D, graphics, shapes and trends — but for these very reasons you may have a difficult time choosing one that's best for you. Those brands and ideas that have stood the test of time are represented in this year's current offerings. With this review we aim to narrow down the field for you.

Within this article, we'll help you avoid the over-hype and slack verbiage you might get from the manufacturer. The all-mountain boards we tested for this 2016-17 season were selected as the best of the best. Even if you decide on our lowest scoring board, you'll still have a blast on the hill because snowboarding is simply fun. If ripping Turkish locals from the village of Meseköy can shred on a few wooden boards glued together for over 300 years, then you can enjoy one that's a bit more modern. Just look here.

Why All-Mountain?


If you're looking for a board that truly does everything well, or only have the cash for one board, then all-mountain is the choice for you. All-mountain boards are designed to handle every conceivable condition with assuredness. Surely there may be boards that can tackle certain conditions better, but you'd be making multiple sacrifices to save one. Whether your primary desire is riding groomers or hard-pack, hitting jumps and park features, dropping cliffs in pow, slashing wind-lips Gerry Lopez style, or simply riding the trees on a snowy day, an all-mountain board will get you through it.

Making the most of some low-angle pow.
Making the most of some low-angle pow.

Different Types of Board



Freestyle/Park
Freestyle boards are generally lighter, shorter, softer-flexing, and twin-tipped for going switch (backwards). They are designed most specifically for jumping and hitting park features like rails, boxes, and other obstacles. These fun sticks are more akin to skateboards than any other type of snowboard and are often used in such a way.

Freeride
Freeride boards are designed for charging steeper technical lines and ripping powder more than others. They are most commonly directional in shape with stance options that allow you to get more nose on those deep days without compromising your ability to go backwards when you need to. Great for backcountry riding or for trying to mimic your favorite Jeremy Jones lines at Squaw Valley.

Powder-Specific
You can ride any kind of snowboard in powder, but you may have to work harder than you want to if you're on the wrong board on the deepest day. Powder-specific boards do one thing very well, and that's floating in deep snow while going forward. Most have wider and longer noses with tapered and shorter tails. If you've ever seen a board with a very short, or split tail, then you were looking at a pow board. The short and tapered, or split-tail, design allows the back of the board to dive deeper into the snow which helps to bring the nose up higher facilitating better buoyancy. This also makes riding backwards and stomping huge airs off jumps and cliffs more difficult. You won't often find a backcountry freestyler on a powder-specific board for this reason. If you like to simply ride powder while going forward, this type of ride is good for you.

The Bits and Pieces — What Makes for an All Mountain board?



Topsheet


Usually fiberglass, different types of plastic, and sometimes wood, the top sheet is the upper surface of the board that you mount your bindings on. It's the part of the board you look down upon from the chairlift. It provides little overall strength to the board itself but it does help protect the core from the elements.

Looking down on the topsheet of the Never Summer.
Looking down on the topsheet of the Never Summer.

Core


The core is the PB and J of the sandwich. Depending on what materials are used, the core gives the board much of it's strength, pop, and overall feel on the snow. Common materials are hardwood or foam/plastic. Kevlar, carbon fiber, and sometimes metals are used to fortify the core.

Base


The bottom of the board, or riding surface. Unless you made your board at home, the base is normally made with high density polyethylene, or P-Tex, as it's commonly referred to. The two basic types are sintered and extruded. A sintered base is more costly to produce but is tougher, rides faster, holds wax better, but is a bit more difficult to repair. Extruded bases are less expensive to manufacture, less durable but easier to fix, and make for a little slower ride.

Edge


Edges keep you from slipping off the mountain. They are made of steel and come sharp from the factory. Before boards had steel edges they weren't even allowed at ski resorts (our tester is old enough to have owned boards without steel edges!) — so you can imagine how they performed on firm snow. In the pow, edges don't do a whole lot, but they do help protect the core materials from the elements in case you were to hit a rock or log. Edges can break from stress or impact and can sometimes be difficult to repair.

Magne-Traction, also know as serrated edges, are grip masters. It can really help lock you into turns whether you're on cord or hard-pack and really helps you out on that East Coast blue ice. Adversely, they can make it tougher to come out of turns. It can also make you feel like you can't really track perfectly straight while trying to b-line it. Standard edges tend to have a little less bite on really hard snow but otherwise are the standard.

Metal edge detail on the Rossignol One. Here  because of the clear base material  you can actually see how the edge looks sandwiched in the board.
Metal edge detail on the Rossignol One. Here, because of the clear base material, you can actually see how the edge looks sandwiched in the board.

Sidewall


Sidewalls are the area between the edge and top sheet and provide protection to the core materials, as well as some dampening if rubber is used. All the boards you'll see in this test are the sandwich type of construction made with ABS — another type of plastic. Other types (not tested) include cap and half-cap.

Looking down the sidewall of the Photo-Type Two showing it's hybrid-rocker/camber base profile.
Looking down the sidewall of the Photo-Type Two showing it's hybrid-rocker/camber base profile.

Inserts


These are the female, t-nut style, threaded nuts that are placed in the board during construction to which you attach your bindings to. Most manufacturers utilize a multi-pack of inserts under each binding to give you plenty of stance width options. Some companies, like Burton, use inserts in a super convenient slider track, which is nice for changing your stance in less time than the standard four-hole style.

Insert Style and Binding Compatibility


For all boards tested here, two insert and binding mounting types exist. All bindings mount with screws, but there are two different styles. All brands here with the exception of Burton, utilize four-hole insert packs.

Four-Hole


The bindings mount using an adjustable disk in which four machine screws are placed through and tightened firmly into the inserts of the board. Before you tighten the screws, you can adjust your stance angle, width, and centering, from toe to heel. Once tightened, they should not move.

Typical Four-Hole Insert Pattern
Typical Four-Hole Insert Pattern

Slider Style


Burton's trademarked Channel system is much different looking than the standard four-hole system. It uses only two screws and inserts per binding and allows for quick and simple stance changes. If buying a Burton board with The Channel, then you must also buy Burton bindings labeled EST. Standard four-hole bindings will not fit on this type of board.

Burton "Channel" slider binding mount track.
Burton "Channel" slider binding mount track.

Closeup of the Burton Flight Attendant Channel stop. This small rectangular piece of plastic keeps the inserts locked into the board to prevent them from falling out.
Closeup of the Burton Flight Attendant Channel stop. This small rectangular piece of plastic keeps the inserts locked into the board to prevent them from falling out.


All Mountain Options


Flex


This is usually measured using a number scale like 1-10. One being the softest and 10 being the stiffest. Manufacturers make finding this measurement easy because it can be an important one. The stiffer the board the more pop — typically, but we've found that stiffer boards also fight the pow more, and are not as playful. Softer boards are typically more forgiving and nimbler, but when you go to ollie they lack the response you'd hoped for. Your weight plays quite a role in stiffness. Simply put: the more you weigh, the stiffer the board you should buy, and vice-versa — unless you really like noodles.

Camber Profile


Camber vs. Reverse Camber (Rocker) vs. Flat vs. a combination of all three! Most board companies have their own base profile designs each with their trademarked names for them — Banana, Flying-V, etc. Fully cambered boards are traditional. Poppy and very responsive, they'll hold turns well, and are very stable at speed and those big air landings.

A cambered Burton board on top  and a Banana'd Lib-Tech on bottom
A cambered Burton board on top, and a Banana'd Lib-Tech on bottom

Reverse cambered boards feel more playful all around but lack the same ollie response as cambered and don't track straight quite as well at slower speeds. But because the nose and tail essentially begin rising earlier than on cambered, they tend to float better in powder. There is noticeably less chance of catching your edges near the tip and tail while spinning on flat ground or on park features.

Weight


Because most brands have varying dimensions and materials, you will find varying weights. The differences may be too little to notice in the shop, but once you're on hill jumping, and even riding the chair all day, they'll become apparent. Our suggestion is to go with a lighter board. Sometimes going ultralight can mean reduced strength. It also may mean less fatigue.

Length


Too long and you'll have a tougher time initiating turns, which can be dangerous in tight terrain like trees and couloirs, but you'll stomp airs in the pow with more confidence. Too short and you'll wallow in the deep, being left to wonder where your friends went, but you'll spin faster on jumps and have less baggage to clear when popping on and off rails. Just right and you'll feel confident all over the mountain.

It comes down to what conditions you will primarily be riding. Powder hound? From your chin to your forehead works. Park and hard-pack? Somewhere between your collar bone and chin is usually good. *This reviewer prefers shorter and more playful boards. We'd rather work a little harder in the pow but still have maximum maneuverability all around. Our lead tester was 6'2", 185 lbs, and prefers a 158 wide.

Width


Pick a board that is just wide enough so your toes and heels don't overhang, but not so wide that you can see the top sheet protruding beyond your boots. Overhang prevents you from really laying your turns down on those high-speed days and causes you to slip out when it's anything other than pow. Overhang will slow you down when you're riding the deep stuff and can be particularly dangerous on steep, handpicked terrain! Losing edge control above exposure can get dicey really quickly. Choose wisely and get as streamlined as possible.

Measure your boots from toe to heel and compare that with the waist width of the boards you're interested in. Keep in mind that the waist width of the board is narrower than where your bindings will be mounted. If you can physically see how your boots sit on the board, it'll help a bunch. We'd fully recommend having all three components together when choosing a board. Board+Boots+Bindings.

Sidecut


Sidecut is measured using the radius of a circle in meters. The larger the measurement, the bigger and longer the arc of your turns will be. At high speed on a nice wide groomer long sidecuts feel really cool. Shorter radius sidecuts make quicker turns and feel very responsive.

Superfluous Things



Graphics


What's it matter how it's made!? The graphics are why you should choose the board you do — above all else! There is some truth to this. Think about it. You will be looking at the top of this board every time you're on the chair, while tweaking big airs, or when you lean the board against the wall at home after a long day of shredding. You have to live with your purchase, so make sure you like the way it looks. When you walk up to the board selection at the shop, what's the first thing that catches your eye? Check it out and see if it fits all your other requirements. If so, you're done! Easy enough.

A fun graphic will keep you smiling.
A fun graphic will keep you smiling.



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